The year was 1993. Bill Clinton had just been inaugurated for his first term as the American President, movies like Groundhog Day, Jurassic Park and Dazed and Confused were in theaters, and “The Puffy Shirt” episode of Seinfeld aired on TV for the first time.
1993 was also a banner year for rock. After Nirvana opened the floodgates with the chart-topping Nevermind and “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in ’92, the genre was at a creative and cultural apex upon the arrival of 1993. Lollapalooza was in its third year as a traveling U.S. festival, that summer headlined by such acts as Alice in Chains, Primus and Rage Against the Machine, with bands like Tool and Unrest performing on the side stage.
Sifting through the top albums released in 1993, there’s a disproportionate number of them that still sound as shockingly fresh and even relevant today. From the Pumpkins’ tightly-packed guitar symphony to the electronic art-rock of a certain Icelandic prodigy, these 10 classic albums still rock two decades after the fact.
Tool – Undertow
After making noise with their initial Opiate EP, Tool exploded onto the rock scene with the release of their full-length debut. Blasting through the grunge anthems of the day, Tool’s technically advanced musicianship and singer Maynard James Keenan’s operatic vocals trod the fine line between heavy metal and prog-rock. Songs like “Sober” and “Prison Sex” became instant fast favorites, with both tunes coming with stark music videos that found heavy rotation on MTV. The band remains one of the holdouts that still refuses to sell albums on iTunes.
An apparent reaction to the polish of breakthrough album Nevermind, Nirvana recruited notorious Chicago producer Steve Albini to helm this 1993 follow-up, which would turn out to be the band’s last studio album. “Heart Shaped Box” was an instant hit, followed by the controversial “Rape Me.” Cobain committed suicide before “Pennyroyal Tea” could be released as the third single. The song was given an emotionally-charged acoustic reworking on Nirvana’s popular posthumous MTV Unplugged in New York album.
Considered at the time a shocking departure from the cool minimalism of their breakout 1990 album, Violator, this massive follow-up found the band embracing big rock guitars, gospel choirs and heavy blues influences. Singles “I Feel You” and “Walking in My Shoes” propelled the band to even higher heights, all the while the now-sober lead singer Dave Gahan was suffering through a debilitating drug and alcohol addiction that nearly claimed his life with an overdose of heroin and cocaine in 1995. This was also the last Depeche Mode album to feature longtime member Alan Wilder.
Driven by the caustic and graphically confessional lyricism of frontman Greg Dulli, the fourth album from this Ohio band turns post-relationship analysis into a brutally beautiful concept album. Pairing those lyrics with sharp musical arrangements rooted in Motown soul and post-punk guitars, songs like “Debonair” and the title track, exemplified the album’s dark-lit emotion and enduring sonic power. The album’s quieter moments, like “When We Two Parted” and “My Curse” (sung by Marcy Mays of fellow Ohio band Scrawl) are no less devastating.
Already a regional sensation on the strength of debut album Gish, Billy Corgan and the Smashing Pumpkins turned the rock world upside down with sophomore full-length, Siamese Dream. Packed with now-classic singles like “Cherub Rock,” “Today” and “Disarm,” Corgan’s symphonic wall of guitars and psychedelic shoegazing sounds launched them to the front of day’s alt-rock pack. A precursor to the double-album opus that was Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, the tight, cohesive feel of Siamese Dream still stands out as one of the most fully realized artistic statements of Corgan’s often controversial career.